Life, Autism, Disability, and More

Education is Not the Answer

building ceiling classroom daylight

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I just wrote a blog about this exact same situation, and now, within a week, there are at least two more heavily reported incidents. Keep in mind that those are “heavily reported” incidents. There is no way of knowing how many incidents never made national news, how many were never discovered, and how many were brushed under the carpet.

Now, I began outlining this blog before I read about the second incident, but much of what I want to say applies to both situations.

In the first situation, a teacher’s aide broke a student’s arm.

In the second situation, a teacher shoved a student. (The teacher denies it, saying that she might have accidentally brushed the student with her elbow, but the video apparently shows her shoving him, and she also then fought with another teacher about the phone she had confiscated from the student.)

That said –

Reasonable people know not to break someone’s arm. It isn’t something that we do that surprising. It takes force. It takes effort.

To work in a special education setting, you must go through training and certification. Yes, the teacher receives far more training, but the aides must also get a certificate.

If someone “accidentally” broke a student’s arm in a general education class, it would be considered unbelievable. Because it doesn’t seem to happen. If a teacher can avoid breaking a student’s arm in a general education classroom, why can’t a teacher’s aide avoid breaking a student’s arm in a self-contained special education classroom?

Many student in self-contained classrooms are there because of behavior issues and other problems that would make it difficult for them to learn in another setting. But the people working with them in the classroom know who their students will be. They know that the students will need extra help and redirection. The people who work in those classrooms choose to work in those classrooms. And, again, they are certified to do so.

Also, keep in mind that it’s not like only special education students refuse to listen or cause trouble in their classrooms. I think anyone who has been in any middle school, junior high, or high school can attest to the idea that there is never a class that is perfect. In these classroom settings, would you still find a way to excuse it? Would you say, “well, it was obviously an accident” or “this is a good chance to provide more education [for the person who committed the crime]?”

While I can provide many reasons why the students may have failed to comply with what their teachers and teacher’s aides may have requested, I have no included them in this blog because *none* of those reasons are an excuse that can make their actions acceptable.

It is a crime, and it needs to be treated as one. 

Advertisements

Unacceptable Force

blur close up focus kids

Photo by Roly Vasquez on Pexels.com

Imagine, if you will, a kindergarten teacher and your five-year-old son in a classroom.

Imagine, if you will, your five-year-old son is doing what five-year-old boys do and is touching himself through his clothes.

Imagine, if you will, that his teacher “thumped” him on his head, hard enough for him to cry, hard enough for a teacher’s assistant in the room to report the “thump,” and hard enough for the police to issue a citation, charging the teacher with assault by offensive contact.

Now, being charged with the crime does not make her guilty of the crime, but witness testimony is pretty strong, and according to the witness, the teacher thumped the student “because she didn’t like what he was doing.”

If the teacher had paid her fine, it would be admitting guilt, and she’d lose her teaching license, so she went to court over it.

And the jury decided it was cool. The jury’s job was to decide whether the physical contact was justified under Texas law, which lets teachers basically do whatever they need to in order to maintain discipline.

This teacher can now continue teaching, can continue “thumping” students, and can continue to mete out justice against her students however she thinks she needs to (or apparently wants to).

Now here’s the thing: the five-year-old child had a disability.

Do you think that played at all into the jury’s decision? Because I sure as hell do.

We know from government data that suspension and expulsion rates for students with disabilities are about two times higher than their non-disabled peers.

Our kids needs to be in school. They shouldn’t be forced out through “discipline” that is not appropriate and that would not be used on their non-disabled peers. They should not be hit by teachers. They should not be punished at different rates.

This is only one instance at one school, but I doubt it’s an isolated incident. It’s just one of the few that is reported.

How many times did a teacher’s assistant keep quiet? How many times did another teacher “thump” a student? How many times did the issue not get pressed or get dismissed within the school system?

The jury sent a clear message – kids with disabilities can be hit by their teachers, and it’s okay. If a child without a disability had done that in class, and if he had been hit by a teacher, you can be pretty sure that the teacher would have been found guilty.

Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, these issues will continue to be underreported and continue to happen.

Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s actions, other teachers may do the same.

Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, parents will be scared to send their children to schools.

Because there is no consequence for the teacher’s action, we need to make it known that this happened. That this isn’t acceptable. That there *should* be a consequence.

We need to make this news that is shared, news that is known by parents, news that causes outrage among not just parents, but educators and administrators at schools.

We can’t go back and change what happened, but we can work to make sure that the next jury that gets a case like this understands that these are not acceptable actions against any student and that just because a student has a disability doesn’t make them fair game for abuse.

Hitting a five-year-old student is wrong. Why do we even need to say this? 

Pushing the envelope! I mean, holding the shopping cart…

board game box business card

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As Simon gets older and older, a problem has emerged into more and more of a problem: going to the bathroom in public.

When he was little, it was easy. Women are pretty accepting of kids coming into the women’s room.

When he got bigger, I kept bringing him in. Sure, he was a bit old to be considered a “kid,” but since he was with me, no one seemed to care.

It made me nervous, though. Sooner or later, I was sure, someone would try to get into it with me and tell me that I couldn’t bring him in.

Now he’s clearly a teenager, and not a young teen either. Bringing him into a women’s bathroom is the last resort. Instead, the best option is a family restroom, or a single person restroom, where I can stand outside and keep an ear – and eye – out.

Recently, I’ve gotten brave.

Since I don’t feel good about bringing him into women’s rooms, I’ve begun sending him into men’s rooms.

By himself.

Then I stand around the entrance, nervous as hell, sometimes calling into the room after him, getting weird looks from the guys who are coming out.

I finally took it further – instead of standing outside the men’s room, waiting for him, calling to him, I would go into the women’s room and go to the bathroom while he was in the men’s room.

I rush.

I pee as fast as I can, hoping I finish before he does and get out before he does. I wash my hands without drying them. If there is too long a line, I don’t go at all and instead just cross my legs until we get somewhere else or until we get home.

I always make it out before him, even if it means that I use antibacterial gel on my hands instead of washing them.

But then I got super brave.

Amazingly brave.

Brave like someone rushing through traffic to save a toddler from an oncoming car hitting him while a hawk swooped down to try to pull him up and eat him and a hunter fired a gun at the hawk, but the hunter had super bad aim and the bullet was coming in way too low.

Okay, not that brave.

But pretty brave.

We were at a Target, and I really really really had to pee.

Simon didn’t have to go, and I knew that he’d been willing to go into the men’s bathroom and pee anyway, but then we’d leave the cart with all the paid-for groceries all alone, and I didn’t really want to do that. And Simon is 16. Maybe it was time to try something new.

“Hey, Simon,” I said, “can you do me a favor?”

“Yes.”

“I want you to hold onto the handle of this cart, here,” I showed him where to put his hands, “and I’m going to go into the bathroom. I’ll be right out. You wait here, holding the cart. Is that okay?”

“Yes.”

Here’s the thing: Simon saying yes doesn’t always mean yes. He says yes to almost as many things as he says no to, and the response often has nothing to do with the question as much as it does about the time of day, how tired he is, or how much attention he’s been paying. Or it might have something to do with what sounds best. I have no idea how he decides whether or not he says yes or no.

But he said yes.

And I had to pee.

He put his hands on the cart, standing where he couldn’t see into the women’s room, but as close as I could get him without having him look in.

The fear. The absolute fear. The oh my god, I am leaving him alone in a store fear.

Will he wander off?

Will he get upset?

Will a well-meaning person try to help him if he gets upset, leading to a police incident in the 90 seconds that it takes me to pee?

(Yes, those are all serious fears – while I don’t think a police officer could make it there that quickly, the fear that an officer could show up and there could be an incident that would lead to an injury or an arrest is completely legitimate.)

I rushed. I rushed so much. I avoided peeing on the seat (which proves that, no, you don’t have to pee on the seat you seat-peeing savages), and I washed my hands, drying them on my shirt because I wasn’t going to use the hot air blower.

I left the bathroom, fully expecting a partial meltdown in progress.

Simon is not a fan of not being able to see people that he wants to see.

At home, I can tell him half a dozen times that I’m bringing recycling out to the bin, and when I come back in, he’s crying and repeating that “Mom is taking out recycling” or if I go out for the mail, then I hear “Mom’s getting the mail.”

Whatever it is, he isn’t very happy about it.

Even going to the mall as a family, when Patrick takes Simon to the bathroom, if I take longer than them, I hear about it as I make it back to the waiting place. “Mom is in the bathroom! Mom is in the bathroom!”

This time, though, he was just standing there, still hanging onto the cart.

He wasn’t trying to look into the bathroom. He hadn’t left the cart. He wasn’t upset that I had gone into the bathroom.

He was…he was…he was fine!

Now, I know that this sounds like all I’m talking about is going to the bathroom, but it’s so much more than that.

He’s 16. He’s going into his sophomore year in high school, but he is eligible for (and will be taking part in) the 18+ program. He will stay in school, getting some extra help, socialization, job training, and lots of other good stuff until he’s 21.

Five years might sound like a long time, but anyone with a child can tell you that it’s not. It’s the blink of an eye.

At 16, Simon needs to be moving ahead with his life.

He needs to be able to do things on his own.

He needs to be able to let me do things on my own.

He needs to not always need someone to watch him.

He needs to be his own person.

He needs to be an adult.

So while standing alone with a shopping cart while I duck into a bathroom for two and a half minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s the start of a lot. 

Dear Abby: Keep Calm, It’s Only an Extra Chromosome

keep-calm-it-s-only-an-extra-chromosome-10I’m down with Dear Abby. I know it’s not her, or her sister. Maybe at this point it’s not even her daughter. It might have moved on to a distant cousin that the family only sees at big family reunions and only recognizes because she’s wearing the assigned t-shirt.

Regardless of who’s writing it, however, I was sad to read the letter, and response, that went up on July 15.

The letter reads:
“DEAR ABBY: We have three grandchildren and are due to make our annual visit. Two of the children are easy to plan for, and we have good relationships with them. The third is a 12-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and we struggle with how to deal with him — what to do and what to buy him. Any ideas? — UNSURE IN THE SOUTH”

Part of the response includes:
“The most important thing you can bring with you on your visit is a heart filled with love, and the determination that your grandson will know you love him. Spending one-on-one time together would make him feel special. Every child needs validation and affection on their journey toward adulthood. With the self-confidence it brings, Down syndrome children can live full and happy lives.”

But no.

No. No. No. No. No. No….

There are far bigger issues at stake here.

Why *don’t* you have a good relationship with him?

Why do you struggle with figuring out “how to deal with him”?

Yes, it’s all well and keen and good to bring him “a heart filled with love,” but he’s twelve years old. Where has that heart been for the past twelve years? Where has the relationship been with him for those twelve years? Why is this just a question now? And why would you ask Dear Abby instead of his parents? Or him?

I’m really, really hoping this is a ham-fisted fake letter (not that I suspect that people on staff write the letters at time because that would be dishonest, and it would never happen), but why make it out as if this boy is so different?

“Down syndrome children can live full and happy lives.”

Wow. Really, whoever it is who writes for Abby nowadays? They can?

Knock me over with a feather and tell me it’s a tornado. People with disabilities can actually have full and happy lives? This should not be shocking news to the grandparents, and if it is, then I’m even sadder and angrier for the twelve year old.

I talked to some other parents about this particular letter, and they actually felt that it was moving and touching.

Me? Not so much.

This feels like grandparents who haven’t cared for twelve years – who have been more than happy to be involved in the “easy” kids, but who have not even tried to make a connection with a grandson simply because he is not like the others.

How would you feel as a twelve year old if your grandparents didn’t give you the same time and attention as your siblings?

How would you feel if they couldn’t be bothered to figure out what you liked because it was “difficult”?

They may be trying to make up for it now, but as someone who has absent grandparents for her own son, grandparents that seem to be (and have been) involved with all their other grandchildren and great-grandchildren, this letter is a stark reminder that some family members abandon those with any form of disability or difference that makes them uncomfortable.

If you find this inspiring, I’m very happy for you because it probably means that you haven’t seen this behavior within your own family.

As for me, I find it painful and heartbreaking to think that these “family” members have not been treating one child like the others. I find it a reminder of the pictures I see posted online of family time that doesn’t involve my family. I find it a reminder of all the times we have not been invited to gatherings because “Simon might not be able to deal with the noise.” I find it a reminder of all the times that family members refused to even try to babysit, claiming it was too difficult to even be left alone with Simon while he was asleep.

At this point, we’ve had to give up because getting up our hopes that Simon would be included and accommodated have been dashed so many times that it’s just unhealthy and unrealistic to keep hoping.

So I hope that the grandparents in the letter do something, that they do try, that they do succeed, and that this boy is no longer left out. But after twelve years, I worry that this boy is in the same place that Simon is in.

Move Your Georgia Peaches Out of My Parking Spot

nature sky bird holiday

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve written before about Simon’s serious aversion to birds, and I still agree with it – birds can be super creepy.

When the weather comes in around here, suddenly the parking lots are filled with not only big black grackles (which terrify him if they get too close), but also with sea gulls.

This makes it hard to walk through a full parking lot. All the birds swooping, crying out, and even landing on cars or lights can make Simon panic. He’s gotten a lot better, and now he’s prone to say, “Shoo birds!” whenever he notices one anywhere nearby.

But it still makes it hard to walk through a full parking lot.

It was one of those weather-coming-in days when Simon and I went to the grocery store.

Simon has an accessible parking tag for situations like this, and I was going to use it.

The parking lot was huge, and I knew that trying to get from the end of the lot to the front door was going to involve a lot of ducking, dodging, and potential freaking out on Simon’s part. There was no reason for him to lose control on the way to the store, and especially no reason for him to risk in engaging in a dangerous behavior like running in front of a car if a bird got too close.

It seemed that all the accessible spots were taken, so I did a few circles around the parking lot.

Then I spotted it – a car with Georgia plates sitting right there in one of the accessible spots.

No marking on the plate.

No tag hanging inside the windshield.

Sure, it was possible that they had forgotten to hang their tag in the front window, but it was just as possible that they had decided it was too hot and they didn’t want to walk or they were assholes who didn’t care.

Because of that, I want to put this out there – please, please, please DO NOT park in a spot unless you are actually authorized to park there.

People might see Simon and think, “well, he doesn’t have a *physical* disability so he doesn’t need it,” but that ignores the safety issue. Being able to walk is a plus, but walking in front of a car because of fear and lack of safety awareness…not a plus.

We did manage to park somewhat close to the accessible parking, and Simon clung to my arm while we told the birds to shoo.

Good shopping trip, but, as we came out, the Georgia car was still there, taking up a spot that they may or may not have been authorized – or needed – to use.

We had one more errands to run, and when we got to that store, there was an accessible spot right up in the front, so we snagged it and went in. The spot was attached to the zebra crossing, and we could walk right up to the door without having to walk in the parking lot itself, making it a lot safer and easier.

Coming out, I was thankful that we’d been able to avoid the dangers that go along with those evil birds.

A formation flew overhead, and I pointed to them.

“See, Simon? It’s okay. They’re not bothering us!”

And that’s when one of the evil birds shit on the front of my tank top.

Evil, evil, evil birds.

Self-Advocating for Cookies

pexels-photo-230325.jpeg

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

At Simon’s birthday party, he was showered with one of his favorite presents: books.

So many books.

So, so many books.

Maybe because the law of averages, he managed to get two of the same book. Since one of them had a gift receipt from Wal-Mart, we decided that was the easier one to swap out.

We returned it, and it went nice and smooth and easy. Gave it to them, got a gift card in response.

“Simon,” I said. “You get to buy something new! Do you want a book, a movie, a shirt?”(The list of some of his favorite things.)

“Yes,” he said, and he pointed towards produce.

Having no idea where it was going, I told him that I’d follow him.

He led on.

We walked through the produce and into the bakery. He wandered around it, looking at bread and cupcakes and…

“Are you looking for cookies?” I asked.

“Yes.”

I showed him where the cookies were, and he grabbed the kind he wanted – chocolate chip – and handed them to me.

“Okay, what next?”

He pointed to the back of the store and waited, looking at me.

“I’ll follow you,” I said. “Let’s go.”

And the grand tour of the store followed. We walked to the back. We walked to the side. We walked back to the front. Then to the back. To the other side. To the back again.

Half an hour later, I was getting tired. I convinced him it was time to pay and move on to our next errand.

He agreed, either tired himself or wanting to crack open the container of bakery fresh chocolate chip goodness.

To some people, it might not be a lot. Just a trip to the store.

But it’s more than that.

It’s a trip to the store where Simon gave the directions; where Simon picked out what he wanted to buy; where Simon made the decisions.

It’s Simon advocating for what he wants. Cookies.  

Little Pitchers Have Big Ears*

baseball uniform*I might be the only one who remembers hearing this when growing up, so a quick explanation:
Little pitchers have big ears refers to the fact that adults must be careful about what they say within the hearing of children. The saying refers to the large handles (ears) sometimes attached to small vessels.

Now that I’ve forced that random knowledge on you…

Lately, I’ve been trying more and more to get Simon interested in average discussions and conversations. He doesn’t seem to be very interested in communicating more than his needs and wants, but I can’t help but believe that there are plenty of other things he could say if he could figure out how. When we go places in the car, and he’s stuck as my captive audience, I start trying to get him to have a conversation. I’ll ask what color the sky is, and if it’s grey, then I’ll ask him what he thinks that means. Questions like that are easy ones for him to memorize, though, so then I start asking harder questions, questions about what he thinks about and what he sees out the window.

One Saturday morning, he had a baseball game, and that afternoon, I took him to Target.  While we were in the car, I asked him what he was good at.

He said baseball.

I asked what else.

He said math.

I asked what else.

He said basketball.

It was a pretty nice list of things for such an abstract question.  

We went into Target and Starbucks (it’s an addiction! Don’t judge me!), and I told him he was good because he helped push the cart and waited patiently while it took forever for the barista to make my coffee.

When we got home, I thought I’d try to continue the conversation and pull Dad into it.

I asked the question again, and this time he began with baseball, but then said he was good at Logan’s (the restaurant where we ate lunch after the game and where we told him he did good at ordering his own food and then waiting for it to come to the table), and then he said he was also good at Target and Starbucks.

After he had added those in, he went back to the original list including math and basketball.

The point had been made.

Just because he’s a teenager who doesn’t say a lot, he definitely listens and learns. And he has huge ears.